UTSW, UT Dallas Collaborate on VR Training on Handling Violent Encounters in the E.R.

The collaboration has led to an innovative VR training tool that places physicians inside a virtual hospital examination room—where they experience a series of realistic patient encounters. The tool enables physicians to practice proven de-escalation tactics to help these incidents end peacefully.

UT Southwestern develops VR training tool

Physicians sometimes face potentially violent patient encounters, but an innovative virtual reality training tool developed by UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Emergency Medicine in partnership with UT Dallas might soon play a role in helping physicians recognize and respond to those emergencies.

UT Southwestern said that the training tool places physicians inside a virtual hospital examination room and presents a series of realistic patient encounters that enable them to practice proven de-escalation tactics.

The need to develop the program was prompted by the nationwide increase in threats to health care workers, UTSW said.

“The ongoing exposure to workplace violence is detrimental to the mental and physical health of healthcare workers,” Gilberto Salazar, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine and in the School of Health Professions, said in a statement. “We owe it to ourselves as medical professionals to find better ways to address this issue. Through virtual reality, we can immerse the users in real-life situations and teach them the most effective way to respond.”

Violence in the ER on the upswing

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show healthcare workers are five times more likely than employees in other industries to experience workplace violence that ranges from verbal abuse to physical violence, UTSW said.

Doctors and staff in emergency are more likely to experience patient aggression than their counterparts in other healthcare environments because of the stress and pain involved in many emergency room visits.

UTSW said that a 2022 survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 85 percent of emergency physicians reported an increase in violent activity in their ERs in the past five years.

Two-thirds of the roughly 3,000 ER doctors surveyed said they had been assaulted in the past year.

Partnering with UT Dallas to develop VR training

Three UTSW Emergency Medicine residents – Andrew Stratton, M.D., Maria Box, M.D., and Philip Jarrett, M.D. – developed the evidence-based training curriculum, drawn from a broad range of disciplines, including emergency medicine, nursing, psychiatry, and pharmacology, UTSW said.

The curriculum included instructions on how to recognize the early signs of aggression and how to de-escalate a situation involving an aggressive person.

UTSW said that to develop the VR program, the team partnered with UT Dallas’ UTDesign Program, which pairs North Texas companies and organizations with senior UT Dallas engineering and computer science students to find solutions for engineering problems.

The goal was to design a tool that not only put the user in a hospital room, but also allowed the person to “feel” what was happening, Todd Polk, Ph.D., UTDesign Director for Bioengineering, said. That was realized by including a vest and gloves with haptic feedback, mimicking the sensation of touch, along with the VR headset, UTSW said.

“When the VR individual swings at your chest, you actually feel like you’ve been hit,” Polk said said in a statement. “You get physical feedback to go along with the virtual reality image.”

Further development

Salazar and Polk began their collaboration in 2020. The project was awarded a $10,000 Simulation Innovation Award from UT Southwestern for further development.

Since then, the project has received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to further study healthcare workplace violence and compare the tool’s effectiveness with other training methods.

The next version of the VR training module is being developed by Austin-based Augmented Training Systems, UTSW said. It will be used for the IRB study and potentially become a key element in training physicians and staff at UT Southwestern and elsewhere.

Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.

Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.

One quick signup, and you’re done.  


R E A D   N E X T

  • As one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, nurturing employees for management and leadership roles is mission critical. The medical center, with its workforce of nearly 23,000, received the 2022 BOLD award for its leadership development. “As we do with our scientific, medical, and training missions, we apply data-driven strategies to nurture leaders who contribute to our institution’s culture of integrity, inclusiveness, and collaboration, and extend those qualities throughout the organization,” Holly Crawford said.

  • Dr. Venu Varanasi, pictured in his lab,an associate professor and lab director at UT Arlington, won the pitch competition.

    After a rigorous process, the top six applications to the Tech Transfer Office Showcase at BioNTX's iC3 life science summit were invited to pitch live at BioNTX's life science summit. Industry experts rated, graded, and discussed the technologies prior to the pitches "We want to cultivate technologies that are coming out of the university ecosystem here—and we want them to stay here," said Chad Ronholdt, managing director at NVB Ventures.

  • UT Dallas marketing professor emeritus Brian Ratchford and his team explored the effects of social media on crowdfunding across nearly 440 GoFundMe campaigns.  They found that social media is most helpful in the first 10 days of a campaign. “If a campaign doesn't do well at the outset, it is unlikely to succeed,” Ratchford said.

  • The extended deadline to apply for Fall 2022 is August 15. NPower Texas is the state arm of a national nonprofit offering free tech training to 18- to 26-year-olds and military veterans and spouses. 80% of the program's graduates find full-time jobs or continue their education—with an average salary boost of 384%. In March, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $15 million to NPower, its largest donation ever.

  • With a five-year, $11.3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, researchers at UT Dallas' new Human Nociceptor and Spinal Cord Molecular Signature Center are digging into the causes of chronic pain and new ways to treat it. The center's leader, Dr. Ted Price, says the data generated "will fundamentally change the way that we think about pain and how we develop therapeutics."